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SEO vs. PPC: What to Know

SEO vs. PPC: What to Know

When we talk about digital marketing, there are two approaches—SEO and PPC. SEO stands for search engine optimization. PPC stands for pay-per-click.

If you’re a law firm, for example, you may need to use both SEO and PPC, or you might decide to focus on one more than the other. For example, your focus might be on implementing the best law firm SEO practices.

For optimal outcomes, a lot of businesses try to focus on balancing both SEO and PPC. Sometimes what you focus on can depend on your type of business and website.

If it sounds a little confusing, it can be, but we break down the two digital marketing concepts below.

What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization or SEO is when you optimize your website to rank in organic search results. Google is what we think of first for organic search results, but there are other search engines as well, like Bing.

You can’t pay to appear in organic search results. Search engines like Google have algorithms. These algorithms calculate your page relevance and quality and then rank you based on that assessment.

To successfully implement best SEO practices, it’s important that you optimize your web pages properly, meaning you figure out what the algorithm is looking for. It’s not easy.

What Is PPC?

Pay-per-click or PPC is an advertising model. You pay to get clicks to your website, and it’s associated with Google Ads most commonly.

Pay-per-click is a type of marketing where advertisers pay a fee every time someone clicks one of their ads. Rather than organically earning site visitors, essentially, you’re paying for them.

Search engine advertising is one specific and popular type of PPC. With search engine advertising, advertisers bid for ad placement in the sponsored links in a search engine’s results. When someone searches for a keyword related to your business, you will show up as a paid result.

If you pay for advertising in search engines, every time your ad is clicked and a visitor then goes to your website, you pay a small fee. The fee shouldn’t be an issue because when you do PPC correctly, the visit you get is worth significantly more than what you pay for it.

PPC campaigns can be complex. You have to research and choose the proper keywords, organize them into campaigns, and set up PPC landing pages optimized for conversions.

If you create relevant, helpful landing pages, Google will charge you less per click, increasing profitability.

Google Ads is the most popular type of PPC system in the world. You can create ads appearing in Google search engines and across other Google properties.

Every time someone searches using Google, Google will dip into its advertising pool and choose winners to appear in ad space. Winners are selected based on different factors like their relevant keywords.

Ad Rank is also relevant to who appears on the page. Ad Rank is a metric that multiplies two things. The first is the CPC Bid. CPC bid is the highest amount you’re willing to spend as an advertiser.

The second factor is Quality Score. Quality Score takes into account your click-through rate, landing page quality, and relevance. Then, with this combination of factors, winning advertisers are reaching their potential site visitors in a way that’s in line with their budget, similar to an auction.

The Basics of Organic v. Paid Search

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of SEO and paid search on their own, how do they compare from the perspective of your business and goals?

Where should you be investing your time and money?

Some of the pros of SEO include:

  • Organic SEO is very cost-effective, and you can improve your site visibility, getting you directly in front of targeted clients and customers.
  • Your organic clicks are free. Yes, you have to invest in creating the content and putting in place the strategies that will get those clicks, but once you do that, you’re continuing to get free traffic for the foreseeable future.
  • SEO strategies tend to lend to sustainable results. PPC ads, on the other hand, stop displaying when your budget runs out.
  • Your results should be somewhat consistent with SEO as long as you’re following best practices and staying up-to-date.
  • When you rely on an SEO-driven strategy, you can create content for each stage of the funnel, and you can do so without paying for all of your clicks.
  • Overall, when we look at the long-term, SEO tends to be more cost-effective than PPC.
  • The organic results in Google attract ten times the number of clicks on paid results.

Of course, it’s not all upsides with SEO. Downsides of organic search include:

  • SEO takes a lot of time. It can be months before you start ranking for competitive keywords, whereas the results of PPC can be instant as long as your bids are high enough.
  • Even though you technically don’t pay for SEO, it’s an investment. You either need to outsource or manage in-house technical SEO, link building, content creation, and more. SEO strategies are complex and labor-intensive.
  • You’re going to have to keep working on improving your SEO. There’s never going to be a time when you’re done optimizing.
  • A lot of companies and entrepreneurs find SEO frustrating and overwhelming. Just when you think you’re doing well, Google can come along and make an algorithm change that negatively affects your site.

What about the pros and cons of PPC? We’ve covered some just by virtue of talking about SEO.

Probably the biggest pro of PPC is that you can see nearly instant results. You also don’t need as big of a team to manage PPC because you might be able just to use someone who’s an expert in paid search. There aren’t as many connected elements and factors in PPC like there are in SEO.

You can gather a lot of actionable data through PPC campaigns, and you can be highly targeted. You also don’t need to constantly monitor Google algorithm updates as you do with SEO.

On the downside, you’re paying for every click, and to get results, you have to spend money. Click costs can go up as competition rises, and as soon as you turn your ads off, your traffic is going to stop.

You can see, with the pros and cons of both, why ideally, you should work toward implementing both SEO and PPC into your digital marketing strategy.


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by Harvey Carr // Harvey Carr is a contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.